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Pretence won’t work, Canadian envoy Bob Rae tells Myanmar State Counselor Suu Kyi

Amid widespread international criticism for failing to address the issue of displaced Rohingya refugees, Canada’s newly-appointed special envoy has said Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s “pretence will not help to resolve the ongoing crisis.

“… I will tell her (Suu Kyi) that it isn’t going to work to just pretend that it didn’t happen and it isn’t going to work to say that two sides fighting and that’s too bad,” Bob Rae, also the former Ontario premier and prominent Liberal politician of Canada, said in an interview with CTV News while visiting Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh.

READ more: Responsibility lies with Myanmar

Thousands still are crossing the border and taking refuge in Bangladesh on a daily basis.

“These people all have been forced to leave their homes and many more are left behind in Myanmar and its clear now many have also died, so we need to talk about that, get more and more evidence and information,” said Rae in the interview.

He said it is quite “hard” and “overwhelming” for him as what he has witnesses and experienced in his visit to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, adding that “it will take quite a lot of time to really digest the full impact of what we have seen”.
CTV News, a Canada-based news agency, published a video of the interview on its website yesterday.

“People are so deeply traumatised and hurt by what’s happened,” said Rae, who was appointed special envoy to Myanmar on October 23.

Without cameras and staff present, Rae met with 12 Rohingya women who shared their experiences in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. He says the refugees detailed horrific violence including sexual assault, aerial bombings, beheadings and attacks on children with machetes. Rae says the nature of these harrowing stories has been consistent, CTV News reports.

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US wants talks on Rohingya crisis but sanctions possible

The US wants a diplomatic solution to the Rohingya crisis but is not ruling out sanctions to pressure Myanmar if needed, a senior State Department official said Sunday in Bangladesh.

Thomas Shannon, under secretary of state for political affairs, said solving the humanitarian crisis through dialogue with Myanmar was top priority but the door remained open for tougher measures should engagement fail.

“We have a variety of sanctions available to us should we decide to use them. This will be a part of larger efforts of pressure,” Shannon told reporters after meeting officials in Dhaka.

“But right now, as I noted earlier, our purpose is to solve the problem, not to punish.”

His comments come just days after US lawmakers proposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military in some of the strongest efforts yet by Washington to pressure Myanmar to end abusive treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

More than 600,000 mainly Rohingya refugees have fled a military-led campaign of violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar likened by the United Nations to ethnic cleansing.

Refugees are still streaming across the border from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighbouring Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya have settled in squalid camps since late August.

Shannon noted some “positive movements”, including Myanmar signalling it was open to hosting members of the international community in Rakhine and holding talks with Bangladesh about the crisis.

The US wanted to “capture” that progress and drive it towards a resolution without having to resort to other means, he added.

“We are going to pursue a diplomatic solution to this problem until we can no longer pursue it,” he said.

For decades the Rohingya have faced persecution in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and denigrated as illegal “Bengali” immigrants.

Myanmar says the military crackdown was in response to deadly attacks by insurgents claiming to be fighting for the Rohingya minority.

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US official: Rohingya should be returned safely to Myanmar

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – A U.S. official visiting Bangladesh said Saturday that Rohingya Muslims should be returned safely to their homes in Myanmar after they were forced to flee the country amid a brutal crackdown by Myanmar security forces.

Simon Henshaw, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said the U.S. would continue to support Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh because of persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

He said at a news conference in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, that Myanmar must ensure a safe and stable environment so that the Rohingya can return home.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since late August amid a crackdown that the U.N. has called “ethnic cleansing.”

Henshaw, who visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district on Friday, said that the Rohingya crisis was a complex one and that the U.S. would continue to encourage dialogue for resolving it.

He said Myanmar must take responsibility for the refugees’ repatriation and that the U.S. wants speedy efforts to bring stability to Rakhine.

Henshaw praised Bangladesh’s government and its people for supporting the refugees.

Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, told the news conference that the Rohingya crisis was getting the “top attention” not only in the State Department but in the White House.

She said the U.S. was working so that Rohingya can return to their homes voluntarily and with dignity.

Bangladesh says it has sheltered the refugees only temporarily and they must go back to Myanmar.

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Tatmadaw, Sangha and government must work together, Sitagu Sayadaw says in sermon to officers

YANGON —One of Myanmar’s most revered monastic leaders has told Tatmadaw officers that the country’s armed forces, government and Buddhist clergy must work together for the stability of the country.

During a Monday sermon at the Bayintnaung garrison and military training school in Kayin State, Sitagu Sayadaw held a wide-ranging discussion peppered with oblique references current affairs in Myanmar.

“The King and people must unite, the Tatmadaw and Sangha must unite like a chair with four pillars,” said the monk, also known by his monastic name Sayadaw Ashin Nyanissara.

Hundreds of officers were in attendance during the sermon, which was broadcast live and watched by over a quarter of a million people.

While on the dais, Sitagu Sayadaw relayed the parable of King Dutugemunu in Sri Lanka, occasionally used in Buddhist sermons by monks across the country.

Known in Myanmar as the story of the “King and Kyay Kalar”, the fable concludes with the absolving of Dutugemunu’s sins by the country’s Buddhist clergy. The king’s interlocutors tell him that the untold numbers of people who were killed during his battles with the Hindu Tamil community added up only to one and a half lives, because they did not obey the five precepts of Buddhism

“Don’t worry King, it’s a little bit of sin. Don’t worry,” Sitagu Sayadaw said during his rendition of the story. “Despite that you killed millions of people, they were only one and a half real human beings.”

Sitagu Sayadaw momentarily distanced himself from the parable, telling his audience: “I’m not saying that, monks from Sri Lanka said that.” He then urged those present to heed the lesson of the parable in the course of their duties.

“Our soldiers should bear that in mind and should serve in the military, I would urge,” he concluded.

One of Myanmar’s most prominent and internationally-recognised monks, Sitagu Sayadaw has received numerous accolades during his monastic career, including several honorary doctorates from universities across the region.

The government of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi recently bestowed upon him the title “Honourable, Excellent and Great Teacher of Country and the State” in recognition of his scholarly work.

In recent years Sitagu Sayadaw has been associated with Buddhist hardline group Ma Ba Tha, speaking at the organisation’s public conferences and professing support for the group’s goals while denying any formal role in the organisation.

Working with the Htoo Foundation in September, Sitagu Sayadaw dispatched aid to ethnic Rakhine locals displaced by militant attacks on security posts in Maungdaw district the previous month.

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Prof Urges Students to Consider Oppression of The Rohingya

The Rohingya crisis has been termed a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and one of the worst humanitarian disasters of this decade. At Cornell, organizations will be rallying to raise awareness about the crisis in November, but students were able to hear about it firsthand from Prof. Gayatri Spivak, English and comparative literature, Columbia, on Monday.

The Rohingya are a stateless Indo-Aryan, dominantly Muslim people living in Myanmar. They are persecuted in a country where Buddhism is the prevalent religion, and they are even denied citizenship.

Spivak, an activist for rural education in Asia, first encountered the Rohingya in Bangladesh in the 1980s, where she said she saw them being shot at as they attempted to cross the Naf River, which marks the boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

“I have never seen human beings so degraded by oppression, so robbed of dignity,” Spivak said.

Today, she said she feels a need to “speak for them, to them, and about them” whenever possible.

Spivak urged her audience to not only consider the Rohingya as a minority oppressed group, but to also regard them as human beings. Rather than think “they are like us,” imagine “we are like them,” she said.

Spivak said that  unless we can envision ourselves as the same as them — as human beings — all the same, it is not worth it in the long run working to emancipate them.

“They cannot represent themselves, so they must be represented” by us, she said.

While in Myanmar, she witnessed a couple of Rohingya women sitting in the mud. Born in Calcutta, India, and similar in appearance, Spivak said she was willing to stand in the most impoverished parts of Myanmar and immerse herself completely in the culture.

The Rohingya women “saw something in my face” and thought “this is one of us,” Spivak said. “They spoke to me … They could tell I thought they were human beings. This was a huge discovery.”

The ability to draw a response from the other side acted as the impetus to dedicate herself to the Rohingya issue and reach out to these mistreated men and women, Spivak said.

One major abuse Rohingya women face is rape, Spivak said.

“Rape is at work all over the world, including in countries where we live,” she said.

In Myanmar, it is both a millennial tradition and a weapon to ethnic cleanse, Spivak said.

Furthermore, the Rohingya lack equality in regards to the people of Myanmar. In the nation-state, they are denied citizenship and cannot vote.

The Rohingya are not technically illegal immigrants, but they are stateless, Spivak said.

“We can relate [this] to Mexico. We can relate it to all kinds of places. One day, it was my place. Next day, it became illegal,” she said. “The land under my foot becomes illegal because it belongs to someone else.”

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EU for Rohingyas’ ‘dignified return’ to Myanmar

The European Union’s commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management has begun a two-day visit to Bangladesh, to assess the ground reality of the Rohingya refugee crisis.

“Here in Bangladesh the scale of this emergency is painfully clear to see: This is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world,” commissioner Christos Stylianides said in a statement on the first day of his visit on Tuesday.

The visit comes a week after the EU and its member states pledged more than 50 per cent of the US$ 344 million total funding raised at the international conference on the Rohingya refugee crisis held in Geneva.

Commissioner Stylianidesis visited the Kutupalong camp in Cox<SNG-QTS>s Bazar, where an EU-funded project is helping over 100,000 people, mostly vulnerable children and women, gain access to essential services, an EU news release said.

“The Rohingya people are not alone in these difficult times,” he said.

Stylianidesis also commended and supported “the generous approach” of the Bangladeshi authorities to the Rohingya people.

At the same time, he added, the EU “continues to insist on full aid access in Myanmar and is working to address the situation in Northern Rakhine state”.

The EU official recommended that every refugee should be registered properly and that “Myanmar takes all necessary steps to allow them a voluntary and dignified return in secure conditions”.

The commissioner will hold meetings with government officials of Bangladesh and humanitarian partners to discuss the international community’s response to the crisis and Bangladesh’s needs to move forward, the release said.

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NGO owner Ushit Maung sent to jail after three-day remand

Police say the man, suspected of aiding terrorism, divulged important information in interrogation

NGO owner Ushit Maung Rakhaing, arrested on charges of aiding terrorism in Myanmar’s Rakhine, has been sent to jail after a three-day remand. Police claim he has divulged important information in interrogation.

On Sunday, Airport police station’s Sub-Inspector (SI) Farhaj Hossain presented him in court and said that Ushit gave important information in remand and needed to be sent to jail for proper investigation.

According to police sources, the Rakhine Development Foundation (RDF), an NGO run by Ushit, is helping the extremist Rakhine community in Myanmar. His wife Sumraraja Leen alias Mamaya, a Myanmar national, has been actively involved in the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP). She lives in Myanmar.

ALP has taken an anti-Rohingya stance in the ongoing Rakhine violence. Police have found that RDF is working to fund the group, the source claimed.

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested Ushit, 67, on terrorism charges while he was boarding a flight to Myanmar at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on October 18.

Airport police’s Officer-in-charge Noor-e-Azam Mia told the Dhaka Tribune that Ushit had been detained after suspicious photos and documents were allegedly found on his laptop. In those pictures, Maung’s wife Sumraraja Leen alias Mamaya was seen holding weapons.

“Ushit and Sumraraja used to gather intelligence and send it to the authorities concerned in the neighbouring country. They also used to provide monetary assistance to the ALP,” the officer claimed.

“We got some important information from him, which are being scrutinised. We cannot disclose the information for the sake of investigation,” he said.

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UN investigators confirm ‘methodical’ killings, rape of Rohingya

Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar have testified that a “consistent, methodical pattern” of killings, torture, rape and arson is taking place, United Nations human rights investigators said on Friday after a first mission to Bangladesh.

The fact-finding team, led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman, said the death toll from the Myanmar army’s crackdown following Rohingya insurgent attacks on Aug. 25 was unknown, but “may turn out to be extremely high.”

“We have heard many accounts from people from many different villages across northern Rakhine state. They point to a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people,” Darusman said in a statement.

The team of three independent experts spent six days interviewing some of the 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state who are in refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar. An advance team of U.N. rights officers have been conducting comprehensive interviews for weeks, it said.

“We are deeply disturbed at the end of this visit,” Darusman said.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, another member and veteran U.N. human rights investigator, said she was left “shaken and angry” by the testimonies.

“The accounts of sexual violence that I heard from victims are some of the most horrendous I have heard in my long experience in dealing with this issue in many crisis situations,” she said. “One could see the trauma in the eyes of the women I interviewed. When proven, this kind of abuse must never be allowed to go unpunished.”

The U.N. team, which was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, renewed its appeal for access to Rakhine state and for talks with the Myanmar government and military to “establish the facts”.

The third member, Christopher Sidoti, said that Rohingyas must be allowed to return to Rakhine if they wish, but only after mechanisms are put in place to ensure their safety.

“That may require the placement of international human rights monitors in Rakhine State,” he said.

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U.N. rejects Myanmar claim that it agreed to help build housing for refugees

YANGON (Reuters) – A UN settlement program, UN-Habitat in Myanmar, on Thursday rejected a state media report that it had agreed to help build housing for people fleeing violence in the northern Myanmar state of Rakhine, where an army operation has displaced hundreds of thousands.

The development underscores tension between Myanmar and the United Nations, which in April criticized the government’s previous plan to resettle Rohingya Muslims displaced by last year’s violence in “camp-like” villages.

More than 600,000 have crossed to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 attacks by Rohingya militants sparked an army crackdown. The United Nations says killings, arson and rape carried out by troops and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs since then amount to a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Thursday that UN-Habitat had agreed to provide technical assistance in housing displaced people in Rakhine and the agency would work closely with the authorities to “implement the projects to be favorable to Myanmar’s social culture and administrative system”.

But Stanislav Saling, spokesman for the office of the U.N. resident coordinator in Myanmar, told Reuters in an email that “no agreements were reached so far” after the agency’s representatives attended a series of meetings with Myanmar officials this week in its capital Naypyitaw.

“The UN-Habitat mission emphasized that resettlement should be conducted in accordance with the principles of housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons to support their safe and dignified return to their places of origin,” he said, responding on behalf of UN-Habitat.

UN-Habitat welcomed the interest of the Myanmar government in international norms and standards, he added.

The United Nations’ principles state that all refugees or displaced persons have the right to return to property or land from which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully removed.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged that anyone sheltering in Bangladesh who can prove they were Myanmar residents can return, but it remains unclear whether those refugees would be allowed to return to their homes.

Rohingya who return to Myanmar are unlikely to be able to reclaim their land, and may find their crops have been harvested and sold by the government, according to Myanmar officials and plans seen by Reuters.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar in August suggested that UN agencies such as the World Food Program have provided food to Rohingya insurgents, adding to pressure on aid groups which had to suspend activities in Rakhine and pull out most of their staff.

Still, Soe Aung, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Welfare who attended the meetings with UN-Habitat, insisted that the agency had agreed to give assistance and the two sides will meet again on November 8.

“We have reached an agreement with the UN for technical assistance. We will discuss more details on how to proceed,” he told Reuters.

The Myanmar military said on Thursday that it will withdraw “some” of the security forces carrying out clearance operations in northern Rakhine and dispatch them to the state capital, Sittwe, as an auxiliary force.

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive cross the Naf river separating Rakhine and Bangladesh in recent days, even though Myanmar says military operations ceased on Sept. 5.

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US declaration of “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar on way

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration moved toward a condemnation of “ethnic cleansing” against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, as officials were preparing a recommendation for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to unequivocally use the term for the first time. Angry lawmakers on Tuesday demanded an immediate denunciation as they explored a new, tougher U.S. policy.

“My bosses have said it appears to be ethnic cleansing. I’m of that view as well,” said Patrick Murphy, a senior U.S. diplomat for Southeast Asia, while adding that the final call wasn’t his to make.

Tillerson could receive the recommendation to adopt such terminology as a matter of policy as early as this week, officials familiar with the process told The Associated Press. He would then decide whether to follow the advice of his agency’s policy experts and lawyers, which would raise pressure on the U.S. government to consider new sanctions on a country that had been lauded for its democratic transition.

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, lawmakers pressed Murphy and other administration officials to hastily clarify their view of the brutal crackdown on Muslims in Rakhine State that has caused more than 600,000 refugees to flee to Bangladesh. But U.S. officials have been weighing several factors for their policy toward the country also known as Burma, including concerns about undermining the civilian government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for the last 18 months.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine was among those calling for a clear determination “with dispatch.” Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized it “may be time for a policy readjustment.” Other lawmakers in both houses of Congress have proposed new U.S. penalties on the military, which retains significant power in Myanmar and is blamed for the violence.

The U.S. officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the internal process and requested anonymity, told the AP the State Department won’t make a call yet on whether crimes against humanity have occurred in Myanmar. Such a determination would be even more detrimental to Myanmar’s military, as it could force the U.S. to push harder for legal accountability.

According to the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention, “ethnic cleansing” isn’t recognized as an independent crime under international law, unlike crimes against humanity and genocide. It surfaced in the context of the 1990s conflict in the former Yugoslavia, when a U.N. commission defined it as “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.”

 Nevertheless, Murphy stressed that “a determination of ethnic cleansing will not change our pursuit of full accountability.” The issue also is sensitive because President Donald Trump will make his first official trip to Asia next month and hasn’t spoken about the crisis.

Human rights groups accuse security forces of launching a scorched-earth campaign in late August as they responded to Rohingya insurgent attacks. Amnesty International alleges that hundreds of Rohingya men, women and children have been systematically killed.

Senators of both parties expressed outrage over the atrocities — and frustration at Washington’s inability to stop them. They questioned whether former President Barack Obama prematurely lifted sanctions against the armed forces as a reward for an end to decades of direct military rule.

“The military control Burma today,” Sen. Ben Cardin, the panel’s top Democrat, said. “That’s unacceptable, that’s why we imposed sanctions, because of military control. Sanction relief was given for what? So people can be ethnically cleansed?”

Murphy said the U.S. has limited leverage with Myanmar’s military. He described broad sanctions and more targeted measures as under consideration, but worried about hurting Myanmar’s vulnerable citizens. Administration officials also fret that punishing Myanmar too forcefully could undermine Suu Kyi’s government and push her country away from the United States and toward China.

Before the latest refugee exodus, roughly 1 million Rohingya lived in Myanmar. The Buddhist majority believes they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations. They were stripped of their citizenship in 1982.

Calls for a U.S. determination of “ethnic cleansing” have intensified, as the United Nations and leading Western governments have used the term. Six weeks ago, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said it “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” French President Emmanuel Macron echoed that opinion, as have leaders of many in the Muslim world.

U.S. officials have been more reticent. Tillerson, who last week said that perpetrators will be held to account for atrocities, has referred to the violence as “characterized by many as ethnic cleansing.” U.N. envoy Nikki Haley told the Security Council last month it was “a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority.”

“We are not shying from the use of any appropriate terminology,” Murphy told reporters later Tuesday, without revealing what the formal review would conclude.

The recent violence already has prompted Washington to curtail already restricted ties with Myanmar’s military. Two months ago, the U.S. stopped waiving visa restrictions to allow members of Myanmar’s military to visit — a policy that Murphy said would also apply to commander in chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. The State Department announced Monday that units and officers involved in Rakhine operations are ineligible for U.S. assistance, and rescinded invitations for senior security forces to attend U.S.-sponsored events.

Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers want tougher action, such as financial sanctions against military officials complicit in rights abuses. Restrictions on military-owned businesses that hold large stakes in Myanmar’s economy are also a possibility.

“Here we have this horrific instance, and we have virtually no voice, no pressure,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is set to travel to Myanmar soon.

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